The view from Alabama: Beat writer Q&A

semerson@macon.comNovember 29, 2012 

ATHENS - This is the best part of our weekly pregame analysis: When we throw aside our own stupidity and let someone who really knows Georgia's opponent take over the blog.

This week we turn to Andrew Gribble, who covers the Crimson Tide for the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and @aldotcom. You can visit his blog here at this link. And if you're not following him on Twitter at @Andrew_Gribble, then you're just not doing yourself any favors. You're really not.

For some reason, Andrew was also interested in my insight, so my answers to his questions about Georgia can be found right here.

Andrew is one of the pros on the SEC beat, and we're very happy to have his insight on Alabama and the matchup with the Bulldogs. Here you go:

1. What's the view of Georgia in that part of the world? Do they see the Bulldogs as a product of their schedule, as many critics do, or do they see a team that scares them, or what?

Gribble: Among fans, I'd probably lean a little toward the product of the schedule. The 35-7 loss to South Carolina is a stigma that isn't easily erased, and there's been plenty of chatter about all the points the Bulldogs allowed to a lowly team like Tennessee. That said, Alabama fans are smart enough to notice that Georgia is hot right now, and there's enough similarities on both sides of the ball to recognize that the Bulldogs pose a legitimate threat in Saturday's game. I have no actual data to back this up, but I bet if you polled Alabama fans, the majority would have rather played Florida because of the Gators' inconsistent offense.

2. Alabama pretty much overwhelmed everybody this year - right up until the LSU game, which was followed by the loss to Texas A&M. Did those two games expose some real concerns for the Crimson Tide, or was it more a reflection of the opponent?

Gribble: Like everything in life, I think it was a little bit of both. The Crimson Tide secondary has two savvy veterans in Dee Milliner and Robert Lester, but the rest of the unit is pretty much experiencing its first full year of college football. There were opportunities for other quarterbacks to do some damage against Alabama this season, but they simply weren't capable of making the big throws. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had the game of his life against Alabama and made numerous throws into very good Alabama coverage. I think the pace and special scrambling ability of Johnny Manziel threw Alabama for a loop during its worst 15 minutes of the season, but even in that game, Alabama adjusted and had multiple opportunities to win the game. If I had to circle one major concern heading into this game, it would be the way that LSU was able to run the ball right at Alabama. Yes, A&M had more rushing yards than LSU, but the majority came from Manziel. The Tigers, meanwhile, went after Alabama in a fashion that Georgia will try to do Saturday.

3. The Crimson Tide have a great ground game, and everyone knows about the offensive line, which is simply great. Georgia's front seven is pretty good too. What's your read on the matchup of these two stout units?

Gribble: When Alabama commits to its running attack, it's hard to truly stop it, no matter how good your front seven. Much like Georgia, the Crimson Tide thrives off its balance, so it prefers not to be one dimensional. If the Bulldogs can disrupt Alabama's passing game, it will, in turn, affect the Crimson Tide's rushing attack. Only once this season, at Missouri during a nasty thunderstorm, has Alabama used the vast majority of its plays for running the ball. It finished with 362 yards. Though it hasn't been a problem of late, Alabama's line has been a tad vulnerable when it pertains to protecting McCarron. There's been nothing like the six-sack game against Western Kentucky, but that's an area Georgia can potentially exploit. As the season has progressed, tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker have been better and better at protecting their quarterback. They ultimately won the battle against LSU's Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

4. A.J. McCarron has that "game manager" label, which Nick Saban says shouldn't be an insult. But how capable are McCarron and his receivers of taking over the game if they need to?

Gribble: Calling McCarron a "game manager" in the negative sense is just silly at this point of his career. He's one of the SEC's best quarterbacks who has been incredibly efficient pretty much ever since last year's regular season loss to LSU. His two interceptions aren't a product of safe, "game manager" style play-calling. He's not afraid to make tough throws; he just rarely puts it in a position where the other team has an opportunity to intercept it. Alabama's wide receiving corps is as deep as it's ever been during the Saban era, but it's been maligned by injuries. Freshman Chris Black, who was expected to be on the two-deep, was lost before the season with an injured shoulder, DeAndrew White went down with a torn ACL in September and speedy deep threat Kenny Bell broke his leg against Auburn. White's injury opened the door for Amari Cooper, who has proven to be one of the best freshman receivers in the country. Bell's may just do the same for Black, who has been cleared to play and doesn't appear to be bothered by the prospect of losing his redshirt season. Like the running game, McCarron is at his best when Alabama is picking up consistent yards on the ground. Both he and Aaron Murray are deadly in the play-action game.

5. Other side of the ball: Alabama's pass rush isn't actually the strength of the defense, at least statistically. Should that be good news for Georgia's offensive line, or is Alabama stilly fully capable of giving Aaron Murray hell?

Gribble: Alabama's never been a team that picks up a bunch of sacks. It's actually averaging more sacks per game than last year's defense. In the LSU game, Alabama put the heat on Mettenberger non-stop. He was knocked down countless times, but he stood tough, took the hits and made great throws. Most quarterbacks can't do that. It will be on Murray to stand tough and not get jumpy when the heat's coming. Manziel's kind of a unique case because he's Johnny Freaking Football and he made numerous special plays even when he was being chased all over the place. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell was able to do that for a quarter or so, but the pressure eventually got to him and his decision-making got worse as the game progressed. That's what Alabama tries to accomplish every game.

6. The vision we have from the outside of Alabama is this robotic machine, impervious to distractions and such. But is there anything - the bravado of Georgia's defensive players, the meaning of this game - that could have an effect on this team?

Gribble: Probably not. That's the benefits of having a roster full of players who have experienced these kinds of big games. Alabama's players have used the failures of the past to maintain motivation throughout the year. The 2010 season has been a common theme, as many players said that year's team got complacent in a year when they were certainly talented enough to be in the mix for a national championship, but instead lost three games. The other has been the 2011 loss to LSU, when players, in hindsight, admit that the hype of the game got the best of them. Alabama didn't play all that great against LSU, but it wasn't because of big stage/bright lights. Nothing has been out of the ordinary at Alabama this week. Practice has been the same length of time, the same players have done the same interviews they always do. For this particular game, the loss to Texas A&M probably serves as an advantage. The Crimson Tide has already experienced failure, so there's less of a fear of it than there might have been at that point of the season.

7. Final question: In your mind, what one or two things are most likely to be the keys for Alabama to win this game?

Gribble: If Alabama's defense can consistently put Georgia in difficult third-down situations, and then get off the field the majority of time after those third downs, it will be mighty difficult for the Bulldogs to pull off an upset. The LSU and Texas A&M games were really the only time Alabama has come out flat in the first quarter. If the Crimson Tide offense can come away with a couple of early scores, it makes the Alabama defense even more dangerous because it can play loose and relaxed. That's when Alabama is almost impossible to beat.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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